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Graphology: Write but Wrong PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Karen Stollznow   

A few days ago I happened to see the article: Is Our Personality Written in Our Handwriting? listed as a “Featured” news item on the Yahoo homepage. This wasn’t a critical examination of graphology, as the title suggests. The article was written with the assumption that graphology works, and that it employs a scientific methodology.

Graphology, in the most common usage of the word, is the practice of handwriting analysis to identify a subject’s personality traits. Some graphologists further claim that they can read the subject’s past and present, forecast the future, and even diagnose illness. Some proponents claim graphology (or graphotherapy) is a treatment, and assert that if people change their handwriting style, they can break bad behaviors, alter their attitude and character, and even heal themselves.

We have to be mindful, as I type away on my keyboard, that few of us have much writing practice anymore, aside from our signatures.

I was once interviewed on the subject by ABC Science, where I said, “Graphology is the handwriting equivalent of palm reading”. We can perceive graphology as another kind of divination, alongside other practices of reading body parts, including iridology (reading the markings of the eyes), reading toes, and even bottoms.

This pseudoscience is not to be confused with the legitimate field of graphology (or graphonomy) better known as forensic document examination. This is the comparative analysis of handwriting examples, to determine if a sample is genuine or counterfeit, for example, comparing an authentic sample with a signature on a check, or a handwritten will. These specialists use Video Spectral Comparators, Electrostatic Detection Apparatus, Stereomicroscopes and computer based image enhancement programs. Despite the use of these tools, the results are not invariably accurate and some guesswork is involved, so we still need to remain skeptical.

Since graphology is used for diagnosis (some conditions affect handwriting production, such as Parkinson’s, but cannot be diagnosed by graphology) and as treatment, it is not an innocuous parlor trick, like reading tea leaves. Graphology can be dangerous, if taken seriously.

Graphology is used for employment screening and employee assessment. The site www.handwriting.com claims that 5000 companies in the US alone apply graphology to assess an applicant’s suitability for a role, and even to determine any risk for substance abuse. I’d rather take the urine test!

This is an unscientific, unproven technique that relies on unfounded, subjective analysis. Therefore, deciding whether to hire or fire someone on the basis of a graphology reading constitutes discrimination.

This is a matter of great concern for skeptics.

Not only is graphology unproven, it has been disproven many times. The "Amazing" Randi himself tested graphology in Episode 6 of James Randi - Psychic Investigator. In this show, a graphologist is asked to match 5 examples of handwriting to 5 subjects, determining their professions on the basis of a reading. The graphologist scored 1 out of 5, a result no greater than chance.

In an investigation I conducted (The Skeptic, Vol. 23, No. 3) I found that not only is graphology an unstructured analysis of features of handwriting style such as spacing, size, slant and pen pressure, but that the resulting reports tend to be subjective interpretations of writing content. If your handwriting example is a copy of a poem, you are perceived as “creative”; or if you write a brainteaser, you are perceived as “a problem-solver”. Graphology seems to be yet another method of cold reading.

As part of my investigation I road-tested a graphologist who gave me a “romance reading”. The graphologist analyzed handwriting examples from myself, and my boyfriend. She made some vague references to personality traits, then determined that we were a happy couple and would marry one day, provided we sort out a few minor relationships problems. Mostly, we were compatible.

This was fortunate, because both examples were of my own handwriting.

Karen Stollznow is a researcher, writer and a paranormal investigator, of the skeptical kind. With a PhD in Linguistics, Karen has a particular interest in language-related paranormal and pseudoscientific phenomena, and owns the website Bad Language (www.bad-language.com).

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written by inquisitiveraven, May 10, 2009
We can haz larger type please? Ahem, continuing in better English, I find the font size used for this article difficult to read.

EDITED BY JEFFWAGG: Apologies for the formatting problems. The fault is mine, and it should be fixed now
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Larger font
written by medains, May 10, 2009
Try pressing Ctrl and + on you keyboard, most browsers will increase font size nowadays. Ctrl and - will reverse it of course.
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written by HiEv, May 10, 2009
Or you could just click the "Increase size" icon at the top of the page (the large white "A" in the burgundy bar).

More on topic, I'm always surprised when people take things like graphology seriously. Why on Earth would your handwriting style necessarily have any correlation with your personality? Are we supposed to believe that the ego portion of your brain also controls your handwriting size or something?

It seems absurd to assume that the way you write is some semi-accurate metaphor for your personality, but, sadly, I'm frequently reminded that people have often been willing to believe things even more ridiculous than that.
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written by the Prof in the pudding, May 11, 2009
I would expect that writing style says, to some extent, at least a few things about a person. I can usually tell whether it was a guy or a girl that wrote a text, for example. And, interestingly enough, you can tell to some extent which country someone comes from; mind you, that's entirely an artifact of nationalized education. And these are also distinctions a computer algorithm can find.
Of course neither example has much to do with personality. It might be interesting to see if a computer could do something with that. But how good a person's fine motor control is will probably have a much greater effect on writing than personality.
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Urine Test?
written by Michael K Gray, May 11, 2009
I stayed up all night studying for my last urine test...
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Hmmm...
written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
I write in an Old English style (mainly because it mostly allows the pen to stay on the paper - except between words, of course), so I would probably pass an an old English gentleman. Which is completely wrong of course.

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
Karen Stollznow is also editor of "The Skeptic", the magazine of the Australian Skeptics.

(Not to be confused with the Australian Skeptics Society which doesn't actually exist.)

BJ
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written by MadScientist, May 11, 2009
There's a woo specialized in reading bums? It wouldn't be called 'analogy' would it? Not to be confused with a genuine analogy.

I've put a bookmark on 'bad language' - it looks like an interesting read. I love the photo - that's the sort of smile people get out of me when I'm planning to get myself into big trouble; when people who know me see me smiling like that they go "oh no, what hair-brained scheme are you hatching now?"
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written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
There's a woo specialized in reading bums? It wouldn't be called 'analogy' would it?

Except that they read bums.

I thought seriously about getting into that line of work, but then I realised that I could hardly advertise for an exclusively female clintele.

BJ
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written by Rustylizard, May 11, 2009
Years ago, a local chiropractor was advertising for a receptionist in the town where I live. The ad asked applicants to send in a sample of their handwriting for analysis. At the same time, a friend, a very attractive young lady, had just graduated from high school and was looking for work. Unfortunately, her grades were not that good, and she had no job experience. Knowing I had a background in psychology, she asked me about graphology and how she might improve her penmanship to get the job.

I knew a little bit about the chiropractor. I told her it didn’t matter if she wrote like an orangutan. All she needed to do was wear a short skirt and bring a sample of her writing to his office. She came back all smiles, job in hand. I don’t think I did her any favors though—she didn’t stay there very long. As I said, I knew a little bit about the chiropractor.


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written by garyg, May 11, 2009
>written by MadScientist, May 11, 2009
There's a woo specialized in reading bums? It wouldn't be called 'analogy' would it? Not to be confused with a genuine analogy.

No, it's called ASStrology.
No, that's not an original observation. Jay Leno said it after citing a news report about some Japanese guy who said he had developed a phrenology of people's...backsides.

Go Kazza!
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written by Starthinker, May 11, 2009
I have mixed feelings about tricking people who claim to be able to do things. Many of us have legitimate jobs and careers and can be tricked by customers and coworkers, etc., and I don't see where that proves anything except they can be tricked, which can happen to anyone in any walk of life.
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I just don't think it's going to work out between me
written by zaphod, May 11, 2009
"As part of my investigation I road-tested a graphologist who gave me a “romance reading”. The graphologist analyzed handwriting examples from myself, and my boyfriend. She made some vague references to personality traits, then determined that we were a happy couple and would marry one day, provided we sort out a few minor relationships problems. Mostly, we were compatible.

This was fortunate, because both examples were of my own handwriting."

There's a joke about self-love in there somewhere...
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Tests
written by trawnajim, May 11, 2009
written by Michael K Gray, May 11, 2009

I stayed up all night studying for my last urine test...


When I had to have a blood test, I studied so hard I got an A+!
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written by LovleAnjel, May 11, 2009
Graphology actually tells you a lot about a person, especially when they dots their i's with little hearts.
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written by BillyJoe, May 11, 2009
When I had to have a blood test, I studied so hard I got an A+!

My studies came to less than nought. smilies/wink.gif

BJ
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written by mandydax, May 11, 2009
I saw an old episode of CSI a few weeks ago (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0534703/), and they had a graphologist who determined that the writing was by a woman and that she was angry. They weren't even looking at a man for the crime in question because of this. Of course, the writers/advisors for that episode must not have known that real forensic graphology doesn't work that way, and the episode played out that way. I did tweet something along the lines of "BAD CSI, NO DONUT" IIRC when I saw this. smilies/sad.gif It was a first season episode, so maybe they didn't have any good science advisors on staff yet. (Same season had an Orionid meteor shower streaking parallel across Orion, which I hope I needn't tell you is so wrong.)
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written by mjh937, May 11, 2009
Mandydax,

CSI seldom has any good science in it. Okay, that may be a bit unfair, but it often has bad science in it.

Regarding graphology, I seldom write anything by hand, and I seldom get sick, so perhaps there is something to it smilies/wink.gif
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written by mandydax, May 11, 2009
Seldom that bad. I mean, just if it's going to go down that way just break out the tarot cards, Gil. smilies/tongue.gif
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No font problem
written by COOL Skeptic, May 11, 2009
Just CTRL-mousewheel to enlarge or shrink (in WindowsXP). Or just Zoom in the browser view menu.
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Graphology as treatment
written by COOL Skeptic, May 11, 2009
Associating actions with ideas is one way to remind someone to do something. So indeed if every time a person tries to write a letter in a specific way that is not natural or comfortable could be used in that way. Hardly a treatment unique to this activity!

My teachers told me sloppy handwriting indicates a sloppy mind. I learned to type in elementary school. I still write badly enough to qualify as a doctor.
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written by Demian, May 11, 2009
On the first day of seventh grade, my new teacher informed the class that he was going to analyze all of our handwriting to find out who the lazy students were, and that they would be "on his sh** list" until they buckled under. I started printing with capital letters starting that day, and have continued to do so. That was over 40 years ago, and I can't really use cursive any more. There's an education for you.
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written by Kuroyume, May 11, 2009
Good start to an engineering/drafting career. Non-cursive capital letters are the norm in that field - and you are expected to excel at them (even with cheat-devises like tracers). Although I use cursive for signatures, typically my writing is in this other form because, even when you aren't accurate, it is still legible.

Really, in this age, how meaningful will be the pursuit of graphology? I have computers and an iPhone into which I 'write' everything. Is there now going to be an egraphology? Are they going to analyze the use of acronyms (LOL, ROTFL, BFF, WTF)? Formally, graphonomy analyzes writing forms but also grammar, repeated phrases, idiosynchracies, vocabulary, and so on. That is real science (as best can be attained in such a pursuit). But deeming a person as a meglomaniac by the style of handwriting is ludicrous. This would require that they actually put their hypothesis to a rigorous test to see if it holds up to reality - and, so far, it has proven subjective b.s. (my acronym of the day).
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written by Habenero, May 13, 2009
"As part of my investigation I road-tested a graphologist who gave me a “romance reading”. The graphologist analyzed handwriting examples from myself, and my boyfriend. She made some vague references to personality traits, then determined that we were a happy couple and would marry one day, provided we sort out a few minor relationships problems. Mostly, we were compatible.

This was fortunate, because both examples were of my own handwriting." - Karen Stollznow

I would expect you to be compatible with yourself! I did a similar test using samples of left and right hand writing. I was told that it was utterly impossible for me to get along with myself.
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written by BillyJoe, May 13, 2009
Habenero,

Your left hand doesn't know what your right hand is doing?
Do you have a transection of your corpus collosum perhaps?

BTW, do you know Jethro Tull's song "The Habenero Reel"?

BJ
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Warning - Pedant Alert
written by pxatkins, May 14, 2009
[and, so far, it has proven subjective b.s. (my acronym of the day). ]

... that would be an initialism, not an acronym. smilies/wink.gif
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Anyone can be tricked.
written by tomfodw, May 15, 2009
I have mixed feelings about tricking people who claim to be able to do things. Many of us have legitimate jobs and careers and can be tricked by customers and coworkers, etc., and I don't see where that proves anything except they can be tricked, which can happen to anyone in any walk of life.

That's a very good point for everyone to remember - anyone can be tricked.
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written by RobNYNY1957, May 15, 2009
A friend of mine was hired by a French bank a few years ago, and he had to submit a handwriting sample for analysis. He thought it was weird, but he went along with it.
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written by Steel Rat, May 16, 2009
I would expect that writing style says, to some extent, at least a few things about a person. I can usually tell whether it was a guy or a girl that wrote a text, for example. And, interestingly enough, you can tell to some extent which country someone comes from; mind you, that's entirely an artifact of nationalized education.


When I took German for four years in an American High School, I started writing some letters and numbers as I'd seen my German teacher do. I would put slashes through "7" and "Z" mainly. Don't know if that's something Germans learn to do, or Europeans in general. So I think your telling which country someone was from might not work so well.
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written by Steel Rat, May 16, 2009
A friend of mine was hired by a French bank a few years ago, and he had to submit a handwriting sample for analysis. He thought it was weird, but he went along with it.


A job was was hired into a few years back required a "personality" test. I answered the questions the way I thought they wanted them answered, not necessarily honestly. So they ended up thinking I was a compassionate person who liked to help people fix problems. While that's true to a degree, I doubt it would be as much as they would have liked. I'm not one to join the Peace Corps, for example, but I do generally lend a hand where I see one needed.
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Dirty Rat...
written by BillyJoe, May 16, 2009
On the other hand you might edged out a guy who was really compassionate but didn't like to brag about it all that much.

smilies/grin.gif

BJ
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Me??
written by Steel Rat, May 16, 2009
Nah, he was in the Peace Corps smilies/cheesy.gif
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written by Michael C, May 17, 2009
>written by MadScientist, May 11, 2009
There's a woo specialized in reading bums? It wouldn't be called 'analogy' would it? Not to be confused with a genuine analogy.

Rumpology. Read all about it on the Skeptic's Dictionary: http://skepdic.com/rumpology.html

This "ancient art" was apparently revived by Jackie Stallone (that's Sylvester's mother). Send her a picture of your bum and she'll send you a "personal, condensed, no frills report on the signs and markings on your rear end": http://www.jacquelinestallone.com/rumps.html
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written by Duaner, July 30, 2009
There's a woo specialized in reading bums? It wouldn't be called 'analogy' would it? Not to be confused with a genuine analogy.


Muahaha, nasty smilies/wink.gif

Muahaha
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written by Duaner, July 30, 2009
[That's a very good point for everyone to remember - anyone can be tricked]

too true
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